Most fire districts across the country still log their apparatus and equipment checks on clipboards or paper log sheets. But that’s starting to change, as many departments are beginning to convert from these pen-and-paper systems into digital logbooks. Automating inspections saves departments both time and money since crews can perform their checks with greater efficiency, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks.
While the start-up costs of implementing such systems is higher than paper-based programs, the savings in the long run are substantial. “A conservative estimate is that a targeted document management effort can return as much as $20 to $40 for every dollar invested,” according to a report from totallypaperless.com. These savings are the result of increased productivity, immediate access to decision-critical data, and the ability to keep, organize, and retrieve vast amounts of information — think regulatory guidelines, manufacturer specs and compliance documents.
But the highest return on investment (ROI) for departments that have taken their checks paperless comes from identifying and repairing apparatus issues early on, before the repairs become more costly and dangerous. According to Daniel Cimini, Fire Chief for Surfside Beach (S.C.) Fire Department and former member of the NFPA 1901 Technical Committee, “there are several things that firefighters can do on a regular basis to head off issues early on and that will help to prevent the need for costly repairs. When everyone knows what needs to be done and what has already been done, the fire department saves time and money. Problems get caught up front and major breakdowns are reduced drastically or eliminated altogether.”
Although fire agencies do not necessarily need a software program to help them catch issues early on — Chief Cimini has been repairing apparatus long before there were digital systems out there — the demand is increasing as departments are asked to do more with less. Firefighters are trained in more areas today, and departments have much more specialized equipment to track, maintain and document. Digital logbooks help departments organize and manage this multitude of information more efficiently than paper check sheets.
With the improved efficiency and transparency that comes with digital logbooks, it is only a matter of time before they take the place of paper checks. Consider what has happened with incident reporting. Before NFIRS, all incident logs were done on paper. But the move to computerized records has drastically increased efficiency by centralizing information, improving accessibility and cutting down on redundancies. Digital logbooks aim to do the same thing for apparatus and equipment checks.
David Cain was Deputy Chief with the Boulder (Colo.) Fire Department for 34 years. Since his retirement in 2013, he has worked as a consultant for PSTrax, a cloud-based service that digitizes fire department apparatus and equipment checks. You can reach Chief Cain at [email protected]
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